The line that defines NCAA compliance has been blurred and skirted around ever since winning has taken precedence. The most flagrant violation (as well as the most harshly punished) has been what is known simply as “The Death Penalty” regarding Southern Methodist University (SMU) and their football team.
In 1986 SMU faced allegations of having paid players on a regular basis. Following an NCAA investigation, it was found that SMU not only paid players, but also lied to investigators when the controversy surfaced.
The punishment has been the harshest penalty imposed on any team in any sport in NCAA history. Their entire season was cancelled in 1987 and the team could only have limited practices in shorts and no pads until the spring of 1988. They were prohibited from playing any of their home games in 1988. Instead of subjecting themselves to the league’s punishment, SMU ended up canceling the entire season of their own volition. They were also banned from live television as well as participating in bowl games until 1989.
While nothing has come close to this type of punishment, there have still been those that choose to cheat and risk the penalties that may come. This risk is taken in large part due to the vast amounts of money that come with a winning, high-profile team. The payout for a BCS game last year was $18 million to be split between the two teams and their respective conferences. That doesn’t factor in ticket revenue for the season, TV contracts, or merchandise sales.
Recently there have been several teams that have come under investigation for anything ranging from giving a recruit a jersey to flat-out paying players or their families. USC has received the harshest penalty, having their national championship from 2005 taken away as well as losing scholarships and any ability for post-season play for three years.
Not only did they lose team accomplishments, but Reggie Bush had his Heisman trophy stripped as well.
Louisiana State University, the University of Alabama, North Carolina University, Ohio State University and 2010 national finalists Auburn University and University of Oregon have all been targets of NCAA investigations.
Ohio St. has been the most visible in their exploits this year. What seemed like a minor issue of players selling their memorabilia resulting in a five-game suspension turned into a massive cover-up that has kept evolving. Coach Jim Tressel admitted to his part in the cover-up, leading to his resignation.
What looked like a one-time offense is turning into a career-long string of offenses that keep mounting. His violations range from rigging equipment lotteries at summer camps to turning a blind eye to major violations, covering up known offenses, and lying to investigators.
The most recent news of violations within college athletics was last week’s announcement that Georgia Tech had been placed on four years probation. The punishment was issued for what at worst was $330 paid to Demaryius Thomas, now a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos.
Georgia Tech was fined $100,000 and stripped of its last three games from 2009 season, including their ACC championship and Orange Bowl appearances. They did not lose scholarships or the chance for postseason play, however.
The full extent of what these teams have been doing may never been known, but one thing is for certain: the NCAA has appeared to have woken up.